Local News

Ford Smoothly Drives Longhorns Past UNC-Asheville

Posted March 21, 2003 5:15 a.m. EST

— T.J. Ford took the opening tip, streaked downcourt and sliced through several defenders for an easy layup Friday against the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

Five seconds into the NCAA Tournament, Texas was off and running.

Thought by many to be a shaky top seed, the Longhorns overwhelmed UNC-Asheville at the start and had little trouble in an 82-61 victory in the opening round of the South Regional.

"We really wanted to come out and try to get our running game going in the first half," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I thought we did a really good job of that."

Ford was at the forefront the whole way.

The 5-foot-10 sophomore showed why he might be the best guard in the country, zipping passes from all angles.

He skipped the ball down low from just over halfcourt for one basket, then flipped it over his shoulder in transition for another hoop that made it 24-8.

Ford finished with only eight points, but he had 11 assists. He also corralled seven rebounds, once keeping his dribble after being knocked to the floor.

"If we lose, we're going home," Ford said, "and we're not ready to go home.

"We came out and played like it was our last game. Everybody stepped up today."

Brandon Mouton added 15 points. Brian Boddicker had 14 points and 12 rebounds and James Thomas 13 points.

Most every Texas player benefited from a pass by Ford, who mixed in several long drives.

"He is what I call a really high-octane player," said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, a former North Carolina State assistant. "He can get it from midcourt to the paint really fast.

"Any time you have a player like that, he's going to cause problems."

The Longhorns (23-6) hadn't played in a week since losing to Bobby Knight and Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. They advanced to the second round in the South, where they'll play Sunday against Purdue.

Asheville (15-17) was the only team in the tournament with a losing record even after beating Texas Southern in Tuesday night's play-in game.

Down 29-10 on Friday, the Bulldogs did not fold. They pulled to 36-28 when Alex Kragel scored the first basket of the second half.

Texas' depth and Ford's tenacity were too much, and Texas kept No. 1 seeds perfect against No. 16s in tournament history.

"We always say we want to cut a big lead to 10 by halftime, so it doesn't look so insurmountable," Asheville center Ben McGonagil said. "We felt good about things in this one, but they put a big run on us at the start of the second half, and it was over."

Asheville still had a little swagger at the end. Guard Andre Smith dunked on an alley-oop, then split the Texas defense for another slam.

Smith was called for a technical foul after hanging on the rim. But he managed a big smile.

The coaches also were smiling at the end, with Barnes warmly embracing Biedenbach.

Barnes was only 23, packing boxes and substitute teaching and working at his dad's hosiery mill when Biedenbach hired him in 1978 as a volunteer assistant at Davidson.

They've remained good friends. After Biedenbach guided the Bulldogs to a surprising Big South Tournament title, one of the first congratulatory calls he got was from Barnes.

Smith scored 19 points and McGonagil 16 for the Bulldogs. Smith did it in spite of often being guarded by Ford.

"T.J. is probably the fastest guy we've played against all year," Smith said.

Six different players scored Texas' first six baskets, and the Longhorns broke away with a 10-0 run to take a 12-2 lead.

The big edge let Ford take a couple of rests, because he'll surely need extra energy as Texas moves on.

"We just wanted to keep sending bodies at them," Boddicker said. "At the end, it paid off for us."